Ta Ta Time for Last Rite Aid on UWS, Locals Lament Loss

At the end of January, the Upper West Side’s last standing Rite Aid, on West 97th Street, will close its doors — to the dismay of locals.

| 23 Jan 2023 | 12:38

Glenn Richter has lived in the Central Park Gardens apartment building on West 97th Street, between Columbus Avenue and the park, for 50 years — and for as long as Rite Aid has been open down the block, he’s patronized its pharmacy.

Now, he’s looking into transferring his prescriptions to a CVS on the corner of West 96th Street and Amsterdam Avenue, in anticipation of the end of the month, when the Upper West Side’s last standing Rite Aid will close its doors for good. Another Rite Aid location on Amsterdam Avenue, between West 69th and West 70th Streets, closed in the fall of 2021.

“This one hurts,” Richter said. “It’s not that there are no other pharmacies in the neighborhood, but it’s an anchor store. It’s the one that we’re all used to going to.”

Locals have gotten to know the store’s employees, including pharmacists who took extra steps to make prescriptions affordable, in Richter’s case. But the chain has been in the process of shuttering approximately 170 stores in its portfolio that spans 17 states since the fall of 2021, according to a spokesperson. Some Upper West Side residents suspect shoplifting, rising rent costs or opioid-related lawsuits may have contributed to the impending departure from the neighborhood — and they’re already mourning the loss.

Will They Or Won’t They?

Rumors of the store’s closure first gained traction in July, according to Sue Susman, who heads the Central Park Gardens Tenants’ Association. At the time, Brian Wehrle, a senior director at Rite Aid, assured the group that the outpost would remain open, according to an emailed statement provided to the West Side Spirit by Susman. “We appreciate your business and look forward to continuing to serve you at this location,” he wrote.

In December, rumblings of a looming closure again took hold. Richter heard of the scheduled closing from store employees. When he spoke with a pharmacist at CVS, he learned he was far from alone in making the switch.

The demise of Rite Aid jives with a larger trend of chain retailers struggling to bounce back post-pandemic.

Crime, Cost And Controversy

A Rite Aid spokesperson confirmed the upcoming closure will be on Jan. 31 but did not specify the exact cause. “A decision to close a store is one we take very seriously and is based on a variety of factors including business strategy, lease and rent considerations, local business conditions and viability, and store performance,” she wrote.

Some in the neighborhood, however, suspect that shoplifting may have played a role in the store’s fate. “It’s another example of the bad guys winning,” Richter said in reference to reports of people stealing from drug stores across the city.

Susman wondered if the cost of rent or recent lawsuits against the company may have made keeping the store open more difficult. In July, Rite Aid reached a $10.5 million settlement with counties in Georgia, North Carolina and Ohio, in connection with opioid-related litigation, Reuters reported. The building’s management company did not respond to a request for comment, regarding the cost of rent.

“They don’t tell us anything,” a cashier at the store told the West Side Spirit. The store’s aisles were mostly empty on Tuesday, Jan. 17.

The Gap Left Behind

Without the Rite Aid, life will change for local residents. “We’re disappointed that they’re leaving,” Susman said. “For some of the older tenants, it’s really very difficult, because it means that they will have to go farther than just our corner.”

Council Member Gale Brewer said prices were reasonable at the Rite Aid, which is only two blocks from where she lives, and lamented that Ivan Pharmacy, an independent drug store three blocks south on Columbus Avenue, is a “schlep” for Park West Village residents. CVS, Walgreens and Target also have drug stores in the vicinity.

Richter imagines a future without the Rite Aid with trepidation. He’s concerned by the prospect of a new bank taking over the space or, even worse, in his opinion, yet another smoke shop. A vacant storefront, he said, would also be bad news. “I would just hope they don’t turn the lights off at night.”

“This one hurts. It’s not that there are no other pharmacies in the neighborhood, but it’s an anchor store.” Glenn Richter